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Gastronomic Gender Roles: Man Makes ‘Engagement Chicken’ For His Girlfriend

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Marisa Kabas

By Marisa Kabas on January 7, 2014

Today I learned that there is a recipe called “Engagement Chicken.”

Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s actually more one part recipe, one part lore, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a chicken recipe so amazing that, if prepared properly, will make your boyfriend propose. Seriously.

For the unaware and uninitiated, some backstory on the origins of this literal wives’ tale: The recipe was developed by Kathy Bonnell, a fashion editor at Glamour in the 1980s. In 1982, Bonnell shared the recipe with her assistant, Kathy Suder, who made the recipe for her now-husband, and one month later he popped the question. Suder’s husband Jon said of the fateful chicken, “It’s a meal your wife would make. It got me thinking.”

For reference, here’s the magical chicken recipe:

via Rue Lala

image via Rue Lala

Now if this was a nice, old-fashioned story that we just looked back on from time to time in a “gosh, that was a very different time” sort of way, that’d be fine. But it appears that the legacy of Engagement Chicken carries on well into the 21st century. Over the years, “success” stories have poured in, inspiring Glamour to publish a cookbook in 2011 called “100 Recipes Every Woman Should Know: Engagement Chicken and 99 Other Fabulous Dishes to Get You Everything You Want in Life.” Yikes. 2011. Not 1911.

On Tuesday we were treated with a recent Engagement Chicken story from Glamour’s Save The Date blog, but this one had a twist: The GUY made the chicken. How modern! A reader named Lauren shared the story of how she once made the recipe for her family and then bragged to her co-workers about how amazing it was. Then, lo and behold, she starting dating her co-worker Kevin, who never forgot Lauren’s culinary tale.

Early on in our relationship, I casually mentioned that I might make us a chicken dinner. Much to my chagrin, he remembered the engagement chicken story and joked that I better not. Over the years we had a running engagement chicken joke, but I never made the recipe for him.

So imagine my surprise when I came home from work last month to a surprise dinner Kevin had cooked: engagement chicken. He immediately dropped to one knee and proposed. He was very concerned that the chicken wouldn’t be good, but it was excellent. The recipe is simply perfect.

Now Kevin is telling everyone that he had waited so long for me to make him engagement chicken, he finally had to make it himself!

This story would be somewhat tolerable if the post didn’t end with this:

How sweet is Lauren and Kevin’s proposal story? Do you think your guy would ever cook engagement chicken for you?

Women have made great strides on this side of the new millennium: We’re leaning in, we’re hacking away at that glass ceiling and generally running shit.

But then we see stuff like this, that men still hope for a girl who will cook the perfect chicken, that it’s noteworthy for a guy to actually cook for his lady, and we’re reminded that the days of June Cleaver are distant but not forgotten. There’s still a healthy population of men and women out there to reinforce our gastronomic gender roles.

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Back in 2012, writer Natasha Burton shared two tales of Engagement Chicken, one failed attempt at age 23 and then another try at 28. The lessons she learned from her experiences should serve as a helpful warning for those considering making it for their man.

While I’m sure that the recipe “works” for some women, I bet that for most of us, it provides a much-needed wake-up call instead. When I was younger, I clung to the recipe’s gimmicky promise and, somehow, thankfully screwed it up. The failed chicken exposed me for what I was: a confused post-grad who was putting on a façade of who I thought I should be, and where I thought my relationship should be.


Well, I’m a vegetarian with a particular disdain for chicken, so I guess I’ll never get engaged! That, or I’ll prove I’m wife material based on something more than a penchant for poultry.

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